7 Keys to the Discipline of Linking

Following my recent STC Webinar on Every Page is Page One, an attendee wrote to ask about the discipline of linking. Unfortunately, that email mysteriously vanished from my inbox before I could answer personally, so, whoever asked, I hope you see the answer here.

Linking is important to Every Page is Page One and to a bottom-up information architecture. When readers can enter your content at any individual page, links are what orient them in the larger content set and what keep them in your content rather than sending them back to their search engine. read more

Bottom-Up Information Architecture Q and A – Part 1

I got a number of really good questions following my TC Dojo session on Bottom-up Information Architecture (below).

I want to address the questions in a little more depth than was possible in the webinar.

Q: I’ve attended multiple Every Page is Page One webinars. They get bogged down in theory but never explain what tasks working technical communicators should perform. “Books may be bad” but at least people know what steps to take to make one. What tasks and steps shall one perform to implement this wondrous new content architecture? read more

Search is Not Enough: Why We Need Multimodal Navigation

Last week I wrote about the death of hierarchy as the dominant form of content organization. One of the comments on that post asked me to “comment on the different perspectives between this blog post and “Search is not enough” by the Nielsen Norman Group?”

Let me get the central question out of the way right up front. I agree. Search is not enough. In fact, there are a lot of things wrong with search.

The Nielsen Norman Group article, by Raluca Budiu, decries what she describes as the tendency of websites to minimize navigation and rely on search alone. She lists the limitation of search: read more

Design for Wayfinding

Much of the time we spend with technical documentation is concerned with wayfinding. That is, it is not about performing the actual operation, but about finding which operation to perform, and finding the piece of content that describes the operation in a form that we can understand.

Note that there are two distinct components to this description of wayfinding. It is tempting to think of wayfinding purely in terms of finding the right piece of content. But simple content wayfinding really applies only in cases where the user it thumbing through a well known and well used reference work. That is, in cases where we know exactly what we are looking for, and merely have to locate an individual data point. read more

Passive vs. imperative linking

Summary: Writers worry about whether links will distract users. To discuss this concern, we need to begin by distinguishing between imperative links that command the reader to click and passive links that merely make finding ancillary material easier.

Tom Johnson wrote a post recently in which he raised an important question about linking, and referred to an earlier article of mine on the subject. When you refer to another document in a post or article, should you link to it immediately? Tom wrote: read more

Topics, Pages, Articles, and the Nature of Hypertext

What is the right word to describe a node of a hypertext?

What should we call the basic unit of information that we present to readers? Is it a page, a topic, or an article? (I’m going to take it as read that the answer is no longer “a book”. If you disagree, that’s what the comments are for.)

I raise this now because of Tom Johnson’s latest blog post, DITA’s output does not require separation of tasks from concepts in which he makes the distinction between topics as building blocks and articles as finished output:

One reason so many people mistake the architecture of the source files with the architecture of the output files is because the term “topic” tends to get used for both situations. I prefer to call the output files “articles” rather than topics. An article might consist of several topics. Each of those topics might be of several different types: concept, task, or reference. read more

The Paradox of Help Quality

 Why does help still kind of suck even after so many years?

Tom Johnson asks this poignant question in his post Do We Need a New Approach to Help? Why Are Users So Apathetic Towards Help after 50 Years of Innovation?

Tom provides a great survey of the trends and ideas in help design, starting with John Carroll’s seminal work on minimalism and suggests multiple possible ways forward.

I think there is enormous promise in many of the paths Tom invites us to explore, but at the same time, I am struck by the need to recognize that there is limit to how much help help can be, and a real danger in trying to do too much. read more

Why simplicity is more important than functionality in content navigation

Findability is a filtering problem. There is a whole whack of stuff on the Web. To find what you want, you have to filter it. So if you can provide your visitors with a more sophisticated filter, such as a faceted navigation or a taxonomy-based browsing experience, they will have more success finding stuff, right?

Not necessarily, no.

The Key to Organizing Web Content is Stickiness

Sticky bun.

The stickiest content rises to the top. Image courtesy of Maggie Smith / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The most important thing you can do to organize your Web content so that people can find it is to make it sticky. Making it sticky is more important than categorizing it or placing it in a hierarchy or taxonomy. It is even more important than linking your content set effectively. In fact, if you don’t make it sticky, neither of those other things are likely to matter much.

It is easy to think of the Web as simply a vast ocean of content. But if it were that, it would not work at all. What the Web actually is is a vast index of content. It is not a fixed index, like in a book, but a complex, dynamic, volatile, multi-stream index. For purposes of findability, how your content is organized on the Web comes down to how it appears in that index. And while you can definitely contribute to how it is indexed in small ways, its indexing is largely controlled by others. The Web organizes itself communally. read more